1804 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Francis Hoyland

Philaxian, "Headnote to Poems by Francis Hoyland" Port Folio [Philadelphia] 4 (12 May 1804) 151.



The author of the following pieces, Mr. Oldschool, was a young gentleman of great respectability and handsome talents. His name was Hoyland; he was born in Yorkshire, in England, of parents who supported a reputable standing in society. Either from intense application to books, for which he discovered an early and ardent attachment, or from some unknown cause, he gradually lost his reason, and finally became entirely insane.

It is a remark of some philosopher, that poetry and lunacy are so nearly allied, that a passion for the first almost invariably precedes the latter. This observation, upon first view, may appear absurd and ridiculous; but, beside the authority of experience, it is obvious to observe what a similarity exists between the wild vagaries of a disordered mind, and the eccentricities of a flighty muse. The heart softened, and the natural vivacity of temper destroyed by many gloomy reflections, and the mind, delighted in regularity and order, appear peculiarly adapted to the tender themes, the harmonious cadence and measured equality of poetic lines. Poetry, indeed, appears to have been a concomitant of inspiration, as well as of other kinds of mental disorder. The Pythea of Apollo, whose ravings resembled more the frantic distractions of convulsive agonies, than the effects of divine influence, screamed out her ambiguous oracles in unmeasured and mutilated verses; and Aeneas' Sibyl wrote on the leaves in her cave poetic responses, adapted to the circumstances of every inquirer. I myself heard some verses recited which were written by a lunatic of the Philadelphia hospital, that would not have disgraced a more conspicuous pen. His productions, though not remarkable for that ardour and regular connection, which is very naturally expected in elegant poetry, contained, nevertheless, many beautiful flights, original figures, and much energy of expression. His subjects were grave, and adapted to the state of his mind.

Whether our author composed these odes before or during his insanity, I am unable to discover; one thing, however, is remarkable, that though his themes are uniformly serious, and many of his expressions strongly indicative of melancholy, his compositions bear no marks of a disordered understanding. From the general tenor of his pieces, many of them, it is not unreasonable to suppose that they were written at the commencement of his disorder. In his ode to sleep he says,

But when, like me, some "pensive wretch" withdrawn
Far from the world, within some darkling grove,
From dewy fingered eve to purple dawn,
"Bemoans his sufferings" like a wounded dove.

But, whatever state of intellect might have produced these odes, the lovers of elegant poetry ought, perhaps, to regret that it was but of short duration. The force of his malady overcame the strength of his constitution, and he became its victim at the age of twenty-one years.

If we consider the early period of life, at which these little essays were written, and the circumstance of their having never been corrected for the press, we shall find much to admire, and but little to disapprove. The early brilliancy of POPE, CHATTERTON, and HUNT, united with great harmony of versification, and considerable strength of genius, are discoverable in many of the stanzas. They never had hitherto, I believe, appeared in print except one, "To a friend, with a borrowed guinea returned," which was some time ago sent to the Port Folio, and which, for that reason, I shall not transmit on this occasion. If you think their merits intitle them to a place in your Miscellany, they are very much at your service.